…to live is Christ: and to die is gain…
A few years ago I had a sleep-study done. I can snore enough to wake the dead, see. And it was bothering my housemates and, in fact, it was bothering the people upstairs. So… I had a sleep study. Bill Cosby has an excellent description of his father’s snoring. He says the whole house breathes in and out with his dad and every once in a while, there will be a pause… and the whole family is like gasping for breath. Then Dad takes a breath and AHHHHH the whole family breathes again. So I kind of imagined that would be what it was like for me. Every once in awhile. But no: evidently I was stopping my breath and nearly dying 80 times every hour. So I got a CPAP breathing machine to wear at night.
A friend of mine telling me about his CPAP reported how it had changed his life and he wished he could take it to the office just to keep the extra oxygen flowing to his brain. Since I’m pedantic, I had to clear it up: that’s not how a CPAP works. The machine just keeps you inflated, as it were. You have to keep breathing yourself! A CPAP is not a breathing machine, it’s more like a prop to keep your lungs open. You still have to keep alive. To get more oxygen at work, Bro, just breathe more. You’re awake… breathe.
This verse (along with Galatians 2:19-20) is the Mystery of the Faith as far as I can tell. St Paul wants to go be with Christ full time – but knows that his people, the Church, can’t do very well with his departure just yet. So he notes: to stay here (to live) is Christ and to leave (die) is to get my “final reward”. Get that: to live, to be here, to keep doing the thing you’re doing, is Christ. In other words: to keep going is to bear my Cross. To be fully alive (to be fully living in and through Christ) is an ongoing process of self-death and being Christ.
The Scriptures speak of all creatures having the breath in them, yet God has Life, the real Life – not just breathing. So, it’s totally possible to breathe your way through the world and die. Humans are designed to live the life of God. We are crafted in his image, we are made with a God-shaped gaps in our being and yet we want to (or I will, anyway) do anything to avoid plugging into the real Power Source. We will make anything into a CPAP to help us not-stop breathing. It can be work, or money, or politics, or sex, or drugs, music, jogging, flying airplanes, whatever. Roller coasters and scary movies are good examples, too. We use it to “feel alive”. We have to catch our breath and we have to feel the adrenaline rush or the endorphins. We can even make it into an addiction. Sex and “adult entertainment” can be made to get more and more twisted as we get more and more bored with the old stuff. So we need a stronger hit next time. But man, I feel alive. O mighty CPAP, just keeping us propped and feeling something.
We never notice that we’ve stopped working, just sort of hovering at the edge of things, feeling the breath come and go. But hey, I’m only dying 80 times an hour.
God is life. If we stop pretending all that stuff is living… and just plug in, grok, God’s right there. Letting all that stuff go will not just “feel like dying”. No: it is dying. It’s dropping the puedo-life of this world completely in exchange for the real thing.